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The Musler Report Archives

Stories, game reviews and commentaries
by one of the CGC's finest writers, Brandon Musler

Brandon (right), looks on as Andy (center) and Tom organise forces
during Faulkner's Crossroads, played at the CGC January 2004

List of Articles

Avenging Mers-el-Kabir
March 15th, 1917
Out Thought and Outfought: History as Sharp as an Assegai, Book Review: Zulu Victory, the Epic of Isandlawana and the Cover -UP
Combat Mission 2 Replay: Barbarossa to Berlin
Borodino 2002: Of March Routs and the Great Redoubt
On Military Wisdom
Faulkners Crossroads: Commentary from an Austrian Field Marshal
Parting Shot Dept.,

Avenging Mers-el-Kabir

This battle was fought at the January 2011 meeting of the Connecticut Game Club using the Seekrieg V naval miniatures rule set.

Acting as GOD, John Demeter set the scenario up as a stern chase with the Force H stalking Force Y. The British had two parallel lines of destroyers running a few thousand years before HMS RENOWN, all making 24 knots. Having just left Casablanca for Dakar, the French were cruising in line ahead at a leisurely 15 knots when the first ranging shot raised a geyser well off flagship GEORGE LEGUYES' port beam.

Rear-Admiral Celestin Jean Bourrague (nee Tom Cusa) was enjoying a resplendent morning on the bridge of GEOGES LEGUYES when he received the report from a scout plane out of Casablanca that his force of three cruisers and three destroyers was being pursed by British warships. The communication was still being decoded when his lookouts spotted stack gasses from a formation at the extreme range of visibility, 9 miles to the north.

GEORGE LEGUYES was leading sister cruisers MONTCALM and GLORIE south. Escorting them were Force Ys super destroyers FANTASQUE, TERRIBLE and MALIN. Bourrague was irritated the British were pursuing. He was bound for Dakar&but the base was a way-station enroute to Gambon where Force Y would show the tricolor to prevent German encroachment. He was doing the British a favor&even if their navy was no longer privy to such intelligence.

The patrolling Loire reported a battlecruiser  HMS RENOWN almost certainly  plus half a dozen escorts. Bourrague found British behavior inexplicable. It was odd theyd wait until after he left Casablanca to shadow his force. Could they really feel that humiliated by the easy way Force Y had slipped past Gibraltar?

Moments later, after a ranging shell kick up a geyser from the ocean thousands of yards beyond and to the port, the British reasons no longer mattered. After the Royal Navys surprise attack on Mers-el-Kabir there was no reason to hesitate. As the famous French proverb put it, Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Bourrague called his force to battle stations. They would show the world how the French Navy could fight.

The Battle
Bourrague signalled his force to turn to starboard. The three super-destroyers turned inside the light cruisers as if to screen.

On the bridge of the flagship, V. Adm. Somerville (Dick Pagano) passed the word to commence firing at about 23k yards on the last of the three French cruisers, GLOIRE. The opening salvo was less accurate than the ranging shot and that level of marksmanship was not much improved upon during the entire course of the battle. It seemed at first that RENOWN would be content to stand off while the British destroyers charged ahead as if in pursuit of a cornered fox.

Fifteen minutes into the battle, while still frantically turning, FANTASQUE (John Covello) scored the first of the battle's two lucky gunnery hits at ~13k yards. HMS WISHART took a 5.5" shell to the bridge while leading the column of WW1 vintage V&W destroyers. With her captain (Matt Roos) killed the ill-fated ship led HMS VELOX and VIDETTE too far astray for their obsolete 4" weaponry to have any further impact on the battle. Almost simultaneously a hit was also scored by one of RENOWN's secondaries on GLOIRE's superstructure. Much to the merriment of the French, 4.5" shell bounced off. It was to be the only hit landed by the battlecruiser and the only appreciable damage suffered by a French CL.

Noting these developments, the desultory shooting especially perhaps, Bourrague ordered his destroyers to attempt to close and torpedo the suddenly exposed battlecruiser. One can only surmise in retrospect what Somerville was thinking. Perhaps he was frustrated by the combination of his flag's poor gunnery and French maneuvering. In any case RENOWN spent so much of the battle trying to close the elusive cruisers that she never unmasked her rear turret and only rarely brought her secondary armament to bear again.

If the French destroyers were intimidated by the bone in RENOWN's teeth they did not betray it. Coming on with elan (at nearly 40 knots) they engaged the modern British destroyers rushing to intervene before they could reach torpedo range. At something more than twenty minutes and 10k yards, LE MALIN staggered ENCOUNTER with a shot that took out her B turret and ignited a fire. Having found the range her next salvo careened into ENCOUNTER 's engine room. So severe was her boiler explosion that some witnesses claimed to have witnessed the destroyer's stern levitate. Surviving engineering crew were trapped at their posts by a second major fire as the ship fell behind its column.

Ablaze and missing a turret, ENCOUNTER could not give as good as she got, but the faltering destroyer did manage to deal a pair of high explosive hits below FANTASQUE's water line causing flooding in engineering spaces and igniting a small fire. This did little to deter the column leader's gunners however and FANTASQUE found GRIFFIN again at 7k yards with three shells, one smashing her bridge and another the fire control. Simultaneously, TERRIBLE lashed HOTSPUR with three hits, taking out B turret and the damage control teams that rushed to quell the resultant blaze.

Finally the French cruisers allowed the range to close under 17.5k yards and they immediately made their quick firing guns immediately made their presence felt. Claims differ but it is certain the GLOIRE landed three blows and GEORGES LEGUES at least two on successive salvos. The first bounced harmlessly off her 7" barbette and 9" turret and belt armor. But the next found soft spots as explosions and fires were observed (660 damage points.) Some claim the Admiral ordered her to proceed ahead to bring her entire broadside to bear. Others that her Captain was distracted by damage control. We'll never know for sure but the battlecruiser plowed ahead at top speed on a predictable course.

The British destroyer line unleashed 8 torpedoes each in a desperate attempt to deny the super-destroyers the sea space to launch torpedoes. But what they hadn't anticipated was the superiority of the French weapons which had greater range and speed than their own. In fact it was too late; the French had already put their weapons in the water. Anticipating evasive action from RENOWN each of the FANTASQUE class destroyers loosed a half dozen 39 knot fish in wide patterns at ~6K yards.

RENOWN was hit first. Five of the eighteen torpedoes struck home; three exploded. She absorbed the impact of the first pair with seeming aplomb. But the third ripped her bow asunder, and the high speed caused a series of structural failures.

Before the cheers had faded on the decks of FANTASQUE (three of her torpedoes went home, but one exploded,) the destroyer was hit by a pair of Mark IXs in return. LE MALIN was to give as good as she got both dealing and taking two torpedoes, only one of which exploded in both cases. Somehow the second in line, TERRIBLE, managed to avoid the fate of her sisters, but then, she was the only one to miss RENOWN too.

Bourrague had seen enough. There would be no recovering from RENOWN's list. And both of his destroyers were severely stricken as well. A part of him wished to finish the fight but he had his orders. The mission was to reach Dakar with a force capable of putting the Germans in Gambon on notice that France -- or the French Navy at least -- was not a force to be ignored. His victory would see to that. And though the British were without honour, the code of the sea guaranteed they would pick up the crews of FANTASQUE and LE MALIN. In some small part, Bourrague had to take satisfaction in avenging the dead of Mers-el-kabir and continue on his way to Dakar.

After Action Analysis (aka Monday Morning Quaterbacking)
The French won largely due to the abysmal shooting displayed by both sides. It was very surprising that Renown did not manage a single hit with her main battery. This was partially due to dice, partially due to her painfully slow rate of fire and finally due to ship handling. The gentleman playing the part of Somerville was an "age of sail" aficionado getting his feet wet with SK5 for the first time. I honestly do not think he appreciated the power of torpedoes...but we all learn sooner or later.

The French cruisers were handled cautiously. They kept their range for most of the game which seemed to lure Renown to her destruction. It was very evident, however, that when the French CLs reached effective range (17.5k yards) for their 6" guns they could inflict a lot of damage very quickly.

Another thing worth noting is that handled aggressive the French super destroyers are very difficult to stop due to their speed and superior torpedoes. They have 5 turrets to the British 4. They fire 90 lbs. shells vs. the British 50 lbs. shells...and they have have superior fire control (1H3 vs. 1G3.) And they take more damage. Like Renown, both French destroyers were at level 8 damage (but we hadn't rolled for tier damage) when the scenario was ended after 10 turns.


March 15th 1917

Dear Papa,

Although a tall order when forced to eat English 'food' every day, I will try not to betray my bitterness about sitting in a prisoner of war camp. If I were fated to be shot down, I would have rather landed behind French lines. My stomach would be better off if the colors on the enemy roundel were reversed. It should never have come to this, but as the French say, "C'est la guerre!"

I was confident of success when we lifted off from our airfield near Lille -- two Albatros DIIIs and my Halberstadt D2. And why not? Rosters are thin and aircraft in short supply, but machine for machine we remain superior to whatever the enemy sends aloft.

I also worked a long time for the opportunity. For almost eighteen months I crewed two-seat Rumplers, first flying as an observer and then as a pilot. At long last my transfer to Jagdstaffel 14 was granted. I would finally have the chance to fly single-seaters. The day of my arrival, I watched a covey of the sleek Albatros, their cowlings stained black beneath the Spandaus, landing at the 14th's aerodrome. I was convinced one would soon be mine. Alas, even the flight-worthy D IIs were reserved for experienced men. As a new pilot, I was assigned an aging Halberstadt.

I flew the Halberstadt twice -- familiarizing myself with it -- before departing on my first mission over the lines. While the fighter wasn't as fast or well armed as an Albatros, (having only one machine gun), it was quite agile compared with the piano vans I had flown in the past. The purpose of this mission was to acquaint me with important landmarks; so we remained relatively low&under 3000' I believe. The sky was clear and the air brisk as we flew north towards the town of Menin.

Leutnant Roos and Unteroffizier Schmidt were given orders to stay away from trouble - orders that I must confess, I hoped would be ignored. Within moments of spotting four enemy aircraft however, the Leutnant began climbing away and the Schmidt belatedly followed. The Nieuports also climbed aggressively, sacrificing speed for altitude. They came on, glistening like baitfish in the sun. Being at least 500' below us, their head on attack was impetuous. When Schmidt could resist no longer, he at last, waved me down into a dive. Without even warming his guns, he tore past towards the closest target. In hindsight, it could scarce have been otherwise.

Watching the Nieuports struggle for height, I thought prayers for my first victory must soon be heeded. In no time the Unteroffizier was twisting among the enemy with at least two of them turning into him. I tried to keep pace on the left hoping to provide him protection. As I pivoted to clear my tail, I noticed that Roos remained well back and above, climbing away from the fray&following orders, I suppose. One does not like to conceive cowardice in a comrade, after all.

Schmidt's Spandaus began hammering a ragged tattoo into a belligerent Nieuport. It staggered before his guns. A third enemy maneuvered against him. I was torn between shadowing Schmidt and stalking my own target. The third Nieuport made the decision easy by suddenly turning towards me. The enemy pilot stood his craft on its tail like a stunting porpoise. I dismissed this obvious attempt to line up a shot as, "too far away and with too much deflection." Too soon. He loosened a long burst. His unlikely bullets chewed into ailerons and bit through my elevators.

I slewed around to confront my foe. Having spent so long in two-seaters, it was not my first instinct, but anger and adrenaline fueled the decision. I lost track of Schmidt as I dove on the Nieuport. It hung in the air as if roped to a nearby cloud. The suspended Nieuport loomed ever larger, filling my gun site. At about 50 meters I squeezed the trigger hard. I watched the enemy pilot duck as my landing gear barely cleared his top plane.

Anxious to see my first kill plummet to earth, I twisted my head around. The Nieuport flew on, straight and level, oblivious to my wishes. Amazing! Much worse, I soon realized, he had splintered my port wing struts. In my battle fugue I had managed to miss most of his aircraft and the impact of his return fire. With my controls nearly inoperable and the erratically vibrating wings, I could neither outmaneuver nor dive away from pursuers.

I gazed anxiously about, searching for protectors. Leutnant Roos, a Junker, demonstrated his concern for our welfare by flying inverted. Schmidt, besieged and alone, continued doggedly dodging and firing amidst the foe. A Nieuport fell away, smoke streaming from its engine. Turning back for home seemed momentarily feasible. Then, with a heavy heart, I watched the enemy flight leader, his pennants streaming, abandon the pursuit of Schmidt and take after me instead.

�Pushing the Halberstadt as hard as possible, I continued heading southwest towards France. I felt like a calf separated from the herd. I tried to open enough distance that my pursuer -- Captain Bond (I learned later) -- might lose interest, but he sensed easy triumph. Each time I looked back, he gained and the Albatros pair was more distant. Finally deigning to descend from his lofty perch, Roos executed a spectacular split S, fired a telling burst, and chased away Schmidt's last harasser. It comforted me little however, for I was left to my fate as the two Albatros finally abandoned the fracas for the comforts of Lille.

I tried for speed but it was only a matter of time before Bond's bullets found their mark. Much to my chagrin, his Nieuport had twin Lewis guns mounted on the upper wing, an innovation peculiar to only a few squadrons on the Western Front. Their combined fire was withering. I brought the Halberstadt down under partial control between the lines. I don't remember much about the landing but I'm told it upended in an empty trench. I managed to evade capture until the evening when an English wire splicing patrol found me shivering in a shell hole.

Hearing I was brought in alive, Captain Bond visited me in hospital. We smoked French tobacco. It didn't aid my concussion but the gesture was appreciated. The Captain told me about his sortie.� Apparently the fight was very brief&one or two quick passes and then home. It just felt longer because mortality was staring me in the eye. His 29th Squadron also lost a recent transfer in the fight&Eric&he could not remember the unfortunate man's name. That man was Schmidt's victory&it is unlikely he survived.

Captain Bond related Warrant Officer Nicholson's claim that he would have shot Schmidt down but for a jammed gun. When I began to argue, he silenced me with a chuckle, "But Warren always says that!" Apparently it was 2nd Lieutenant John Troise whom I saw ducking beneath his instrument panel&after damaging my aircraft beyond recovery. The Captain suggested that I might have better luck with wingmen next time. Apparently, they all found the Junker Leutnant's antics amusing&although less so his aim.

The pursuit of the Blue Max may be having an adverse impact on Jagdstaffeln tactics discipline and tactics.� Men like Immelman and Boelcke have gone, and now it seems it's everyone for himself. I should have known to duck a sortie on the ides of March. Well, at least the Kaiser is safe, but this war is over for me.� Send strudel!

Your Son,

- Sergeant Mueller


Out Thought and Outfought: History as Sharp as an Assegai

Book Review: Zulu Victory, The Epic of Isandlwana and the Cover-Up
Zulu Victory is a valuable synthesis of research on the battle of Isandlwana, where a British Army under Lord Chelmsford was outmaneuvered and defeated in detail by King Cetshwayo's Zulu Army. The strength of this book lies in its clarity. Every important personality and event in the campaign is thoroughly weighed and explained, without ever losing sight of the overall context. The result is a fluid, balanced account of a very confused set of circumstances.

This book is equally valuable as an all-in-one historiography of the battle. Serious history readers will appreciate this facet from the Forward, written by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, right through the appendices. The quality of the writing keeps the history from becoming dry. The narrative remains vivid, even after multiple readings. As with Morris' "The Washing of the Spears," the storytelling is flat out exciting.

Try not to be put off by the subtitle: "The Epic of Isandlwana and the Cover-Up." The twin themes of the book are clear. 1) The Zulus did not simply stumble on and overwhelm a British encampment. They made use of their advantages, which included better mobility, and communications as well as a superior understanding of the local terrain, to outmaneuver and defeat an overconfident enemy. 2) Chelmsford and his supporters attempted to shift responsibility for the defeat to a colonial cavalry leader, Colonel Anthony Durnford, (Royal Engineers) who was killed in the fray. (You may know him as Burt Lancaster in the movie "Zulu Dawn.")

Perhaps the 2nd point is more marketable, to scholars, but what most amateur historians will find instructive is the campaign narrative. While much has been made in the past of how courageous individual Zulu warriors were, and of their famed "head and horns" battlefield tactics, this is a depiction of how the Zulu lured Chelmsford into splitting his force. It explains the thinking from 'both sides of the hill' without attributing an artificial superiority to European tactics, or shortchanging the sophistication of the native leadership.

The book makes it clear that although Chelmsford was both arrogant and defeated, he was not necessarily the fool played by Peter O'Toole. He operated with tremendous logistical challenges that severely constrained his freedom of action. Moreover, while Chelmsford was overconfident, the British still might have withstood the Zulu impis had they recognized the danger sooner and employed different tactics...as later battles were to prove.

All the usual debates are covered including a detailed appendix (C) devoted to the infamous British Ammunition boxes and their (potential) impact on the battle. The book has 11 very clear maps and 75 illustrations, many of which are in color and really capture the battlefield from the perspective of contemporary eyes.

If you have an interest in 19th century imperialism, military history, or even what happens when indigenous peoples and colonials collide, read this book. It's excellent history and a ripping good yarn to boot.

Zulu Victory - The Epic of Isandlwana and the Cover-Up, Ron Lock & Peter Quantrill, Greenhill Books, London, 2002. List: $39.95


Combat Mission II  Barbarossa to Berlin Replay

By Brandon Musler

Im writing this piece for all you Steel Panthers (SP) fans who have not yet tried out Battlefronts Combat Mission (CM) series. This isnt intended as a full blown comparison or review. Its simply a taste of playing this superb computer game.

Combat Mission I  Beyond Overlord was way ahead of its time. The CM environment took everything that was good about Steel Panthers World at War (except its excellent campaign system which provides a quasi-RPG fa�ade) and added another dimension. The basic idea was to build a WW2 simulation using a 3D CAD/CAM engine. You get not just an overview, but 7 different (360 degree) viewing angles including nose in the mud, which is where your troops will spend lots of their time. Its not that SP didnt handle line of sight (LOS) adequately, but more that CM takes terrain out of the realm of abstraction and makes you feel it in your bones. Failing to do so, you will lose, big time. Maybe thats why the developers call themselves Big Time Software.

Besides improved graphics and well over 100 Eastern Front scenarios (including mini-campaigns) Combat Mission II  Barbarossa to Berlin fixes a few niggling problems with its predecessor, as well as upping the ante by adding capabilities and tactics specific to the Russians. The AI already equal to or better than SP  also improved a great deal. As PC horsepower has increased this game has really come into its own. Its all I have been playing on my computer lately, and if I dont give 100% effort, I get my butt kicked black and blue, especially when playing as the Hungarians, Rumanians or Italians. BTW, a CM Mediterranean version  including North Africa, Italy and Sicily is due out next. Here I played the Russians.

Replay of the Totenkopf Scenario

Its August 1941 and an invading kampfgruppe from the Totenkopf regiment has advanced behind Russian lines in Estonia to cut the Narwa to Riga road. Elements of this SS formation set up a solid defensive position in the woods on the reverse slope of a hill where they could interdict a crucial Russian supply route. The Soviets sent in an attack with (3x) B10 armored cars, (2x) T-26s, (3x) BT-7s and lots of regular infantry to dislodge them. The dug-in defenders  mostly recon elements  are badly outnumbered but they do have support elements including (2x) PSW 222 armored cars and (3x) 37mm PaK 36 anti-tank guns. The Germans also had haphazard 81mm mortar support that fell like meteors all over the battlefield, but never supplied much focused firepower. More on why later.

Had it been visible to me, Totenkopfs defensive perimeter would have perfectly illustrated the Wehrmachts defense doctrine in 1941. Given time, the Germans tend to set up like this: infantry elements dug in on the edge of the woods in two or three deep
foxholes with MGs, anti-tank rifles and 50mm mortars in support. Nothing unusual here except maybe the forward placement of HQ elements. The key factor however is where they put the anti-tank guns, which are always on the extreme flanks, not in the middle of the line. If the Germans can site intersecting lines of fire, they occasionally place their antitank guns semi-forward, but if not, then recessed on the flanks. The latter was the case this time.

Out in front of the main forest on the German left flank there were some additional woods. They deployed infantry forward into this copse which they defended aggressively throughout the game...counterattacking any and all efforts to occupy it. Their heaviest deployment, however, was on their right flank where they had a sizable hill bordered by a swamp. These heights overlooked the big wheat field in the center of the battlefield.� The Germans sited two out of three of their three antitank guns up there. Once the action commenced, taking out those hidden guns out was to be my primary focus.

I noticed the road embankment (which bisected the battlefield) gave good enough cover to act as a base from which to launch my assault. My troops reached it with minimal resistance. I placed most of my armor in a hull down position behind the embankment. After that was set up, I advanced the Russian infantry across the blacktop in bounds.

The SS responded violently to this first foray. As soon as the infantry spearheads crossed the road the German armored cars (ACs) came after them. Too aggressively. They were ambushed by my hull down armor. The German crews were nonetheless quicker on the draw. They managed to take out a BT-7 (which, upon later reflection may have been a concealed 37mm antitank gun because the fog of war option was on) and a T-26. Russian numbers eventually told. One PSW 222 burned in the wheat field and the other AC got its main 20mm gun blown off...so it retreated to the edge of the woods where
its crew bailed out.

I decided to cool my heals in front of the German left flank after taking heavy fire from the small woods there. I was content to return vast quantities of small arms fire in hopes of suppressing them, a decision that was to come back and haunt me later.

Now it was my turn to be aggressive and get ambushed. My main assault was on the German right. It faltered when, after discovering and suppressing a 37mm gun, I ventured out with my surviving T-26 and (3x) B10 ACs. The second expertly hidden 37mm gun knocked out a B10 outright and disabled another while still yet sending the last T-26 scurrying away with a shell through one turret (they have two turrets with a machine gun in each!). This setback showed me that my infantry had to advance and establish a base of fire at the center of the battlefield in the wheat field. I would surely lose if I attacked either flank again without first establishing a crossfire.

This I did  mass allowing the Russians to keep advancing in the face of the German MGs  but of course the leading motorized infantry units watered the motherland with their blood. Still, my main trouble was time. Half way through the game now, I was panicking (as is my custom) because I couldnt see a way to crack the Nazi line. OTOH the German maneuver elements were burning, most of the perimeter had revealed itself, and their antitank guns had been spotted&albeit the hard way.

I had to bust a move. Some of my infantry spilled out of the center wheat field into a small adjoining woods on the left. From there they managed to move forward to a position where they could mortar and machine gun the antitank guns up the hill...enough to suppress them. The recon elements on the German left flank had a large killing ground in front of them and were fighting for every foot of it, but finally I identified a narrow avenue of approach that would shield the BT-7s from the 37mm on that flank. I threw caution to the wind and charged. BT-7s are fast which helps  but the lead tank took repeated hits. Eventually I realized it wasnt the 37mm gun but 7.92mm antitank rifle fire, which can pierce the turret, but can't destroy the tank.� Even so my crews were panicking and so I had to stop and wait for the infantry to catch up and hunt the antitank rifles down. The winded Russian infantry made their way up eventually, worse for wear and very low on ammo.

As soon as the Russian infantry reached the advanced woods, the AI reacted decisively. Germans sallied forth from the foxholes on the main perimeter, time and again. They paid dearly though because the Russian infantry were up in the wheat now and also because although the disabled B10 had a single, narrow field of fire&it was sited for opportunity fire on the field which the Germans had to cross in order to counterattack.

Some of the Germans made it forward. Now the infantry closed in on one another in the woods in front of the German left. Numbers were about equal. Some of the SS resisted from their original foxholes, but the Russians had the 45mm tank guns to dig them out. The Russian infantry, down to virtually no ammo  assaulted with only grenades. At one point they bayoneted the German mortar spotter and used him as a sandbag&because they had no better choice.

When the BT-7s came out from behind their nook behind the woods they would face the antitank guns...so I scattered them in three different directions. German gunners got one and another ended up in a hollow where it remained as a fire platform, but the third broke free like a fullback into the middle of the battlefield. In short order it took out the lynchpin of the German perimeter -- a tripod mounted MG34.

Meanwhile on the opposite flank, after an extensive small arms fight, the Russian infantry managed to wipe out one 37mm gun crew with mortar and machine gun fire. They took the other crew (who were subject to intense fire the entire battle, but still took only two casualties) prisoner. The way was finally clear for the last two AFVs  a shot up T-26 and the last mobile B10 armored car  to turn the German right and penetrate the foxhole line on the lip of the main woods.

The scanty German reserves had counterattacked on the far flank and their center was now dominated by a roving BT-7, not to mention the Russian infantry in the wheat field. The remaining maneuverable SS troops couldn't quickly reinforce. The game was about 3 turns past the minimum scenario turns (the number in a CM scenario is variable to prevent humans from gaming the victory conditions) and thus I had (briefly) seized the center of the German woods. Alas, a final desperate German advance (really a crawl) on the next and final turn (my troops had only hand grenades and pistol ammo to resist it, here again) managed to reestablish their presence in the center, leaving the day in doubt. It was a 50-50 draw...but a very satisfying one because I had all but given up half way through.

This was first and foremost a learning experience. From an operational perspective, I should have concentrated my forces on one flank to avoid confronting all of the German antitank guns. Tactically speaking, the BT-7s speed, when used properly, makes it a useful if not imposing weapon  much like the latter day American Sherman. In 1941, never despise 20mm guns or even antitank rifles. My B10 armored cars, despite being wheeled vehicles, were better armored and armed than the machine gun only T-26 tanks...something I will remember when selecting targets for my 37mm guns next game.

In fact, I would love to play the scenario again from the German side. I wonder if I will be able to extract another draw. My advantages will be an understanding the terrain and knowing the enemy force mix&so I dont plan on losing those two PSW 222s as quickly. But I'm sure the Russian AI will attack more efficiently (it makes good use of terrain, even while attacking) because after a lifetime of reading about Ostfront, I'm still learning from this game. Even though a replay, it should be a challenge and a lot of fun to boot. This was early-WW2 action at its very best. Anybody who enjoys Steel Panthers should try it!


Borodino 2002: Of March Routs and the Great Redoubt

Submitted by Brandon Musler, CGC Member (bmusler@att.net)

The 90th Anniversary of the Battle of Borodino was commemorated in early September with an enormous historical miniatures (25mm) recreation at JodieCon: Borodino 2002. Over 100 miniatures enthusiasts gathered at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia to stage the epic battle of 1812 as the Russian Army tried again to defend Moscow from the tender mercies of Napoleon and his Grande Armee.

Borodino 2002 was a special four day event sponsored by the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS), those wonderful folks who bring you COLD WARS, FALL IN! and HISTORICON. Earlier JodieCon Campaign Conferences have reenacted Austerlitz, Crete, Gettysburg, Kanev, Market-Garden, Monmouth and Waterloo&in lead. Borodino was staged once before in 1992; perhaps it was this prior practice that made for a nearly perfect gaming experience in 2002.
War and Pieces

Borodino 2002 was a full-scale historical convention that included a Napoleonic conference (courtesy of MagWeb.com), historical re-enactors, vendors and a museum tour, but the main-feature was unquestionably the Borodino wargame. Gamers acted as Army, Corps or Division commanders. Each Russian and French unit was represented at a scale of 1:50 by employing literally thousands of lovingly detailed Old Glory 25mm Napoleonic figures. The battlefield terrain, arrayed over the equivalent of about 30 Ping-Pong tables, was built on an ambitious scale of 1 inch to 25 yards and compellingly rendered the Great Redoubt, Fleches, Kalatasha river and Borodino village itself. The tactical scenario, including the complete historical 1812 order-of-battle, employed Nigel Marsh's Carnage and GloryII (C&G2) computer moderated rule system. It was a feast for the eyes, but the operative question was how would a wargame on this scale play?
C&G2: Plays Great, Less Filling

Coordinating the activities of 100 competitive, and occasionally sleep deprived, lead pushers is a daunting challenge. Many rules systems can handle a basement-scale game of 10-20 units per side over an afternoon, but the task here was 50 times greater. Organizers estimated that between 12 and 20 turns might be played during the weekend. With a game scale of 15 minutes per turn, this represented only 3-5 hours of historical time. While a reasonable goal, the Battle of Borodino was fought for 14 hours. Despite the complexity of coordinating so much carnage, C&G2 covered itself in glory by allowing 33 turns (over eight hours) to be played in full. A decision was reached.
After Action Report

Historically, Napoleon's Grand Armee chased two Russian Armies across the Russian steppe towards Moscow. The armies of Bagration and Barclay combined at Borodino, 70 miles West of Moscow, under the overall command of Kutusov. Fearing the Russians might maneuver away again; Napoleon eschewed the flank attack urged on him by Davout. Instead, he sought a battle of annihilation through attrition leading to extraordinary unit densities and the bloodiest single day of the entire Napoleonic period, including Wagram, Leipzig and Waterloo. Quite a challenge to recreate.

At Borodino 2002, although initial deployments were not historically mandated, Napoleon followed Davout's plan of a sweeping southern hook. In addition, after taking the village of Borodino, the French also embarked on substantive tests of both the Great Redoubt and the Fleches while demonstrating with cavalry on their northern flank. Kutuzov (played by Charlie Elsden who led the British to a decisive victory in the Peninsula during a visit to the CGC in August) anticipated the French maneuver but underestimated its ferocity.

Despite tenacious resistance, the French eventually stormed Utitza and the Fleches, substantively turning the Russian left flank. The morale of Barclay's First Army collapsed as French cavalry fought its way through the opposing screen and rode down the Russian gun line beyond. Exhausted from killing so many dispirited Russians during the heat of the day, French impetus ran out just short of a key road juncture.
In the center, the Great Redoubt changed hands with multiple charges and countercharges, before the Russians prevailed by substantial margin with a "death or glory" ride to victory by the Empress' Guards Cavalry. Maneuvering under the mouths of cannon belching death and flame from the Great Redoubt proved extremely costly to French manpower and morale. As the battle waned in the center, Constantine was contemplating sending in his Guard on the morrow, to retake Borodino, where Napoleon's Guard Corps, the flower of the French Army, surely waits.

On the Northern flank, the initial demonstration by French cavalry was met with a ferocious Cossack counterattack. The Cossack commander, who flew in from Turkey with his fianc�e and had never played miniatures before, bedeviled the French throughout the day. He turned the French flank with the help of Bagration's line troops who forded the Kalatasha and drove the Wurttemberger Division back on the village of Borodino again. In the end, the battlefield had shifted from an east-west to north-south alignment, using the Great Redoubt as its pivot point.
And the Decision Goes To&

In 1812, Borodino was a tactical victory but a strategic defeat for Napoleon. The Grand Armee marched on to take Moscow but never destroyed Kutusov's army. What followed is perhaps the most notorious retreat in military history, as the French army was first depleted by callous logistics and then destroyed by General Winter and marauding Cossacks.
The results of Borodino 2002 were similar. The French managed to turn the Russian flank in the south and slay 15,000 troops but they suffered 15,000 casualties themselves in the shadow of the Great Redoubt. More importantly, although the Russian Army was battered, it retained control the Main Post Road -- i.e. its lines of communication. In other words, the Russian Army survived to fight again&again.
Why It Went So Well

There is no doubt that the overall JodieCon convention was a triumph due to the considerable logistical planning, expertise and hard work of Pete and Jodie Panzeri as well as the volunteerism of the HMGS faithful.� But Borodino 2002, the wargame, played fast and true primarily due to the Carnage & GloryII moderated system.

C&G2 brings three distinctive innovations to Napoleonic miniatures, all of which improve play dynamics by helping gamers appreciate friction and fog-of-war. C&G2's chief innovation is its built-in assumption that army morale and fatigue are the key determinants of battlefield performance. Far from a "bolt-on" afterthought, successful leadership is primarily a function of how efficiently these factors are managed. Low-key computer moderation, the second innovation, makes it possible to keep track of the myriad variables impacting morale. Not removing figures when casualties are incurred is the 3rd innovation. The interaction of these ideas improved historicity and streamlined the gaming during Borodino 2002.

C&G2 is, at heart, a morale management system. Its primary unit of measure is the human heart. Muscle endurance (human and equine) is a related consideration. Mammals are not machines. As they grow tired, their capacities diminish and determination wavers. Napoleon tacitly recognized this with his comment that 'morale is to material as 3 is to 1'. Gamers accustomed to commanding mechanized armies often learn it the hard way -- after pushing their men and horses too far, too often. C&G2 models and measures the limits of leadership by punishing those who fail to husband available muscle energy and morale.

Computer moderation, especially a "black box" approach, offers many benefits. Foremost is the offloading of calculation and endless recalling of minutia. The system prompts players to consider modifiers and remembers past events accurately. This not only enables a genuinely morale-based system, but it's invaluable when gamer fatigue sets in after about four hours of real-world playing time. By doing the math, it drastically reduces friction between opposing camps over whether a modifier was factored correctly. Moreover, it abstracts the role of Game Master (GM) away from each individual player and makes them think in terms of general tactics. This dynamic manifested itself at Borodino 2002 where most arguments were about appropriate tactics (amongst allied players), instead of across the table, between opponents.
The practice of not removing casualties (lead stands), combined with computer moderation, creates an element of uncertainly from which miniatures gaming benefits. Historically, when men in the front ranks fell, their place was quickly back filled, continually presenting a full line to the enemy. With black powder smoke and dust covering the battlefield, even a general situated on a hill would have a hard time discerning unit casualties precisely, never mind communicating them to subordinate commanders below. So, it is important to offset the computer's 'perfect' memory with players' fallible (and often convenient) recollections. The fog-of-war aspect incites the hyper-aggressive to ask too much, and the timid too little, from their troops. Best of all, when you beat somebody, they can't blame it on bad dice because they never threw any. If they beat you, on the other hand&

Other Observations
CGC members Tom Cusa and Frank Lubarti served alongside Nigel Marsh and Dave Bonk as able GMs; these guys were integral to the success of Borodino 2000. They worked every minute of the battle and attended pre- and post-session meetings besides. At Borodino 2000 the GMs provided an absolute minimum of granular data. This was disconcerting to those accustomed to seeing every modifier, and result, spelled out -- as in other Napoleonic rule sets. Some diecast grognards found it difficult to accept the uncertainty inspired by C&G2, at first. This is because the role of the GM in C&G2 is more akin to a soccer referee than an American football official. Bear with me here.

Americans expect referees to be intrusive -- stopping games frequently and not restarting play until the infraction and violator are identified, remedies discussed, and an accounting of the incident delivered up to all players. Indeed, in many games far more time is devoted to dealing with technical distractions than actually playing. The GM mechanics of C&G2 produce a very different experience in spirit and practice.
C&G2 is designed as a fast-paced game with few interruptions. Players request a GM service (change formations, fire unit), rather than the GM overseeing their activities, per se. Because C&G2 does the bookkeeping, GMs are free to apply their understanding of history and precedent rather than apply modifiers by rote. Minor miscues can be overlooked if the GM considers them to have marginal impact. The GM can also "play through" trivial transgressions, especially if doing so negates the opponent's advantage, like when a maneuver technically stretches the rules, but allowing it will exhaust the army that is artificially extending play boundaries. In other words, the GM can let you do dumb things&if you insist.

It is especially easy to fall prey to obsessive rules lawyering and neglect surrounding context in a heated contest. Rather than argue, most players prefer to "get on with it" after they realize the extra turns afforded by smooth C&G2 game play influence final results far more than any one isolated situation or modifier. As a general rule, players focus on "the bigger picture" better. If not, a GM can render an argument moot by entering his decision into the computer and continuing, leaving bitter enders to debate in the wake of a progressing game. With 50 players per side facing off all weekend, this helped move things right along.

Of course, GMs like Bonk, Cusa, Luberti and Marsh strive for uniformity of interpretation as strenuously as us players strove for command excellence. Everybody did their best and the inevitable human variations were in keeping with the pre-industrial eccentricities of the Napoleonic battlefield.� C&G2 enabled an exploration of line tactics on a gaming scale never before possible. It was a glorious experience!
For further convention information visit www.jodiecon.org and for a more detailed accounting of Borodino 2002 game events check out The Great Redoubt Newsletter available there. A complete description of Carnage & GloryII is available on http://home.att.net/~npmarsh/index.htm.


On Military Wisdom

Compiled by Brandon Musler
from February 2004

"Aim towards the Enemy." -Instruction printed on US Rocket Launcher

"When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend. -U.S. Marine Corps

"Cluster bombing from B-52s is very, very accurate. The bombs are guaranteed to always hit the ground." -U.S.A.F. Ammo Troop

"If the enemy is in range, so are you." -Infantry Journal

�"A slipping gear could let your M203 grenade launcher fire when you least expect it. That would make you quite unpopular in what's left of your unit." -Army's magazine of preventive maintenance.

"It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed." -U.S. Air Force Manual

"Try to look unimportant; they may be low on ammo." -Infantry Journal

"Tracers work both ways." -U.S. Army Ordnance

"Five-second fuses only last three seconds." -Infantry Journal

"Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid." --David Hackworth

"If your attack is going too well, you're walking into an ambush." -Infantry Journal

�"No combat-ready unit has ever passed inspection." -Joe Gay

"Any ship can be a minesweeper... once." -Anon

"Never tell the Platoon Sergeant you have nothing to do." -Unknown Marine Recruit

"Don't draw fire; it irritates the people around you." -Your Buddies

"If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him." -U.S.A.F. Ammo Troop


Faulkners Crossroads,
commentary from an Austrian Field Marshal

From January 2004 miniature game at the CGC
Dear Napoleon,

I suppose being on that little island, there's not much else to do. And it wasn't a bad summary, but launching that pre-emptive literary strike will hardly save you from a more fulsome treatment by the unforgiving eye of history. I stood bravely on the hill beside Sir Robin and the rest of my men watching your battalions melt like ice on a summer's day. It was magnificent, but it wasn't the way us professionals fight a war. That's about all we'll be hearing from these unwieldly "democratic armies." You must always remember Mark that it's the victors who get to write history.

In my memoirs, it won't be luck that doomed the Guard! Having got a bit too cocky beating up on that "sepoy general" in Spain, you forgot about what Frederick the Great taught us...and it will never change.

God Save the Queen...or King...or the Knights who formerly said 'nee'...but now say echi, echi, echi, akaw...ptang.

�Yours smirkingly,

General Brandon "Hapsburg" Musler
An Early Advocate of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire

P.S...which is less anachronistic than Napoleon quoting Faulkner about a war as yet unfought. (Get some sleep man!)


Parting Shots Dept.,

"Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war.
This war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring.
I get so bored I could scream.
Besides, there isn't going to be any war."

Viven Leigh, as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind